Pope Boniface VII in 1302 in "Unam Sanctam"

We got an email that said:

"Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Pope Boniface 1302 AD)... How do you understand it?

The Unam Sanctam, which contains this statement has quite a history to it. King Phillip of France and Boniface had real power struggle issues...it was a crisis in the Church and 3 years later the Papacy was moved from Rome to Avignon France for a century – a real mess.

Having said that, the Unam Sanctam does need to be explained because some have said that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself in Vatican II. Vat II makes it clear that it is possible that some who are not "card-carrying" Catholics may be in heaven.

Theologically, I would say the Unam Sanctam is technically accurate, however, it is written in such a way that it was attempting to achieve a particular purpose, which was to discourage King Phillip from trying to dominate and take over the Church. That particular purpose is no longer an issue, and Vatican II states it in a way that makes sense in today's world.

Those who wish to dive into theology and deeply examine the Unam Sanctam in its full context will understand that it is not in contradiction to our theology. One of the problems of being a 2000 year old Church is that we have had to deal with many crises and some of them used strong language to address those issues. I don't deny that there was some powerful politics and temporal issues involved, and as such, 1302 A.D. was not the time to go into the subtleties of being implicitly subject to the Pontiff. 

Here's an imperfect analogy. There are many British subjects who break the law. Nevertheless they are subjects of Britain and still enjoy the fruits of being British subjects, such as a right to a lawyers, a right to certain government support programs etc...

I'm subject to the laws of gravity, even though I sometimes disobey them. That is how I broke my hip, dancing on a table (true story). However, I was still subject to the law of gravity and enjoyed the benefits of being a subject of the law of gravity. My body did not blow apart into a million pieces like it would on a planet with no gravity.

We also must remember the Unam Sanctum did not say people must be "Subjects of the Pope". The Unam Sanctum said they are "subject to the Roman Pontiff." I suggest there is a subtle but perhaps an important distinction. That distinction allows Bishops to have a lot of autonomy, which is what the Orthodox Church wants. The Bishops are not "his subjects" as if he is a "king" (Christ alone is the King). But they are "subject to" him like the board members are "subject to" the Chairman of the Board.

The Catholic Church's position is that there is no salvation outside the Church. However, technically anyone from another denomination who has been baptised is an implicit member of the Catholic Church since there is only one Baptism that Jesus gave us, and we believe he gave this baptism to the one Church. So anyone who is baptised with water in the name of the Father Son and Holy Ghost is sharing in the baptism that Jesus gave to the Church. The denominations are split off from the "One True Church" that practised baptism in the first centuries. Historical analysis proves that. So they are participating in that Baptism. Further in this email was this:

>>>I've been thinking a lot about these issues, but my feeling is that Britain needs a united front. I can see it happening before my very eyes. Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox >>are meeting together where I live. When all's said and done, Christianity is all about Christ - he's all that matters, as I am sure you'd agree.

I understand how attractive it is to go after the melting pot model of unity...and in many respects I connect up with other denominations through the commonality of the statement "Jesus is Lord". I just finished leading the music for a Pentecostal men's retreat weekend. We had lots of jokes of the Catholic guys leading the Pentecostals but we were glad to participate.

We can pray together and love one another and share the great things that we have in common. But It is short sighted to take that to the next level and say:

"Because Jesus is our Lord, God will bless our attempts at unity and we can all be one happy family if we simply ignore particular sections of the Bible that we disagree on."

We must remember that Jesus while Jesus called us to unity, He also called us to obedience. And there is just no way around Matt 16:18 without taking a "white out" marker to it. And that is the kind of thinking that lead the Anglican Church to "white out" sections of the Bible that speak about Homosexuality. Just because we wish there was no Bishop of Rome who was called to "Shepherd God's people" doesn't mean we can wish Jesus' teaching away.

Scripture is important. Jesus gave us 1500 pages of Scripture. He could have easily just come in a big cloud of smoke and said "I am Lord" and then not required us to use Scripture. Then we could all declare unity on the statement "Jesus is Lord" and everybody could believe whatever else they wanted to about details of their faith...but that is not what he did. In fact, I would suggest that is a perfect definition of relativism, which says, "yes there is a God, but you can think of him any way you want, and do anything you want according to your own conscience." But our consciences are tainted with original sin, disobedience, and rationalization. Jesus knew that. So although he wrote his law upon our hearts, He also gave us Scripture, which He quoted frequently (Septuagint). Jesus taught the disciples for 3 years. If all he had to say was "I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no one can come to the Father except through me," He could have only spent 3 minutes on earth. He loved Scripture and he wanted us to use it. But he also realized that we would squabble, so he gave us a leader, Peter and his successors, as the Shepherds to guide the bishops, who in unison, guide our understanding of Jesus' teaching.

The other 30,000 denominations cannot agree on the interpretation of that Scripture. They cannot have unity without ignoring the pieces of Scripture that they disagree on. Yet they call themselves "Bible Christians". This seems contradictory.

I suggest Christendom cannot have deep and true unity without a human leader appointed by Christ. Without a leader we are like a dog pack with 10 lead dogs running in different directions. Jesus is the sled driver and he needs to have a lead dog that all the other dogs will follow. He guides that lead dog, and that dog leads the others.  That way the sled can go where He is directing it. But if the other dogs are not following the directions of the lead dog who is receiving direction from the driver (Jesus) the sled will go all over the place and may not reach its destination.

I don't discourage getting together with all the denominations, especially on social issues. (I do it all the time) But instead of going after the melting pot model, I would rather go after unity within the context of saying:

"There is One Church and although we don't agree on what that is, let us pray together, let us learn about each other, let us study history together, let us study Scripture together, and then let us decide who our vicar on earth is, and let us all be humble enough to accept that authority if and when it becomes clear to us."

This approach to unity isn't a quick fix, it will be a long and arduous process, and it will need to be full of concessions from all sides, including the Magisterium. But in the end It will give the kind of unity that Jesus called us to. It will be a  deep unity, united on doctrine, theology, Scripture, and of course our powerful witness together that "Jesus is Lord."

Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.
Amen